The Federal Reserve yesterday reduced its basic discount rate by one percentage point to 13 percent in a move that could accelerate the slide in short-term interest rates. It was the first drop in the discount rate in more than a year.
The stock and bond markets rallied sharply yesterday on the prospect of lower interest rates, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing up 19.60 points. Interest rates, however, are falling mainly because the economy is sliding further into a recession, which many economists say they believe will continue into next year.
There also was further evidence yesterday of the deepening housing recession, triggered by this year's tight money and high interest rates. The Commerce Department reported that sales of new single-family houses plunged by 12.6 percent in September to their lowest level on record.
The rate of sales for September was 312,000 homes, significantly below the previous low point in April, 1980, and a 45 percent drop from the year-earlier figure, the report showed.
Although the Federal Reserve traditionally moves its discount rate after other market rates, in turn it often causes other rates to move further. Yesterday's drop could encourage further drops in interest rates, analysts said, and perhaps encourage other banks to follow Chicago's Continental Illinois, which this week dropped its prime lending rate half a point to 17.5 percent.
The discount rate is the interest rate the Fed charges member banks for loans.
Record high interest rates are largely responsible for tipping the economy into recession this year, analysts say. But the recession, and the curb it has placed on private sector credit demands, is operating to lower interest rates.
Wall Street economist Henry Kaufman yesterday predicted that short-term and long-term interest rates will decline in coming months. His remarks triggered a rise in bond prices yesterday afternoon. Kaufman earlier had made gloomy predictions about how high interest rates may rise, but yesterday he said that several factors "suggest the decline in money rates will continue in the period immediately ahead."
However, he remained pessimistic about the long-term prospects for interest rates, warning that there could be a rebound in rates when the economy picks up.
Many analysts, including some in the administration, say they fear that as soon as the economy begins to grow strongly again it will run up against the tight money ceilings of the Federal Reserve, and interests will start back up.
The Federal Reserve has emphasized that it does not intend to ease money growth beyond its targets, although this still would allow somewhat faster money growth than there has been in recent months.
The Reagan administration backs the Fed's tight money policy, which is aimed at reducing inflation, but unless inflation abates rapidly the money ceiling severely limits the room for real growth in the economy.
Another leading Wall Street economist, Albert Wojnilower, yesterday warned that present monetary policies soon could produce "a serious credit crunch and wave of industrial bankruptcy."
The housing and auto industries are hit first in a credit squeeze, and the new-home sales figures released yesterday are the latest in a long line of increasingly dismal statistics on the housing industry, which is falling further into its longest and deepest slump in the postwar era.
"We haven't reached the bottom yet," predicted Michael Sumichrast, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders.
In other economic developments yesterday:
* The Treasury Department announced that it will not raise the current 9 percent interest rate on U.S. savings bonds Sunday, although it is proposing legislation that would allow variable rates on these bonds to make them more competitive with other market savings instruments carrying far higher interest rates.
* The Federal Reserve reported that the key M1-B measure of the money supply, which includes cash and checking accounts at all financial institutions, rose by $1 billion in the week ending Oct. 21 to reach $434.3 billion.
The Fed has been trying to bring M1-B growth back up into its target growth range for this year, the bottom end of which is 3.5 percent. In the four weeks to Oct. 21 growth averaged an adjusted annual rate of 2.9 percent.
* The Agriculture Department reported that U.S. farm prices fell again in October. The 3.7 percent drop continued a slide in prices that began in January.